Israel Police Refuse to Release Video of Thwarted West Bank Stabbing Attack

Eyewitness accounts by Palestinians contradict police's claim that Maram Abu Ismayil, 23, and her brother Ibrahim Salah Tahah, 16, refused their request to stop and posed a threat to officers.

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Maram Abu Ismayil, 23, and brother Ibrahim Salah Tahah, 16, shot after attempted stabbing at Qalandia checkpoint in West Bank. April 28, 2016
Maram Abu Ismayil, 23, and brother Ibrahim Salah Tahah, 16, shot after attempted stabbing at Qalandia checkpoint in West Bank. April 28, 2016Credit: Reuters, Mohamad Torokman

The police are refusing to make public the video showing the attempted knife attack by a brother and sister in which the pair were shot dead at the Qalandiyah checkpoint in north Jerusalem on Wednesday.

According to the police, the two, Maram Abu Ismayil, 23, and her brother Ibrahim Salah Tahah, 16, were acting suspiciously and did not heed the police calls to stop, with Abu Ismayil allegedly pulling out a knife and throwing it at officers. Later two knives were also found on Tahah’s body. According to Palestinian witnesses, however, the siblings were far away from the police, were not a threat, and did not understand the calls for them in Hebrew to stop.

Scene of attempted stabbing at Qalandia checkpoint in West Bank, as seen from Palestinian eyewitnesses. April 28, 2016Credit: Courtesy

The Jerusalem Police said the video, if there was one, could not be made public because the incident was under investigation. However Haaretz checked and found that in a number of cases in the past the Police Spokesman’s Office had itself made public videos of similar incidences, even adding captions to explain what was happening and justifying the police actions.

According to the police, Wednesday’s incident at the Qalandiyah checkpoint began when the police noticed Abu Ismayil and Tahah walking toward to crossing point for vehicles where pedestrians are not allowed. Abu Ismayil continued walking with her hand in her back, and Tahah did so with his hand behind his back.

Ignoring orders to stop, when they were very close to the security barricade before the checkpoint, police said Abu Ismayil pulled a knife and threw it at a policeman, who was uninjured. Police and security guards then opened fire and killed them both. The police released photos of the three knives, the one Abu Ismayil threw and the two found on her brother’s body, one of which was a switchblade.

Knife allegedly found on Maram Abu Ismayil, 23, shot after she attempted to stab Israeli officers in West Bank crossing of Qalandia. April 27, 2016.Credit: Israel Police

The police version of events does not conform to that of Palestinian eye witnesses. Ahmed, a bus driver, told the Palestinian news agency Maan that the policeman fired at Abu Ismayil from a distance of 20 meters and the pair did not constitute a threat when they were shot. The Palestinians also said first aid teams at the scene were not allowed to approach the two.

Photos taken at the scene show the two lying in the middle of the road, some distance from the checkpoint where police and security guards usually do not stand. People very familiar with the checkpoint said the point where the siblings fell after being shot was about 15 meters from the security blockade before the checkpoint.

MK Dov Khenin (Joint Arab List) demanded Thursday that Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan launch an immediate investigation and release the videos the army has.

Khenin said that as the pair walked toward the vehicle lane, they did not understand the orders in Hebrew to stop, and Tahah was holding his sister’s hand to lead her to the correct lane when they were shot, “with the police about 20 meters away behind concrete blocks.” After Abu Ismayil was shot, her brother knelt to help her and then he was shot as well, Khenin said eye-witnesses had reported, adding that “the police were in no danger whatsoever.”

Khenin called on the department in the Justice Ministry that investigates police misconduct to launch an investigation and “to release the videos and any other material that exists from the scene. We cannot accept that people are shot to death in broad daylight based on only a suspicion,” he said.

MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint Arab List) demanded that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit see that the video was released and that an investigation into the siblings’ death be opened immediately.

The Jerusalem Police rejected Khenin’s allegations and said that he would receive a response through the usual channels from the public security minister.

The police said that even in cases where there is no doubt about the police conduct they do not release videos from security cameras. Such videos released in the past were not taken by police cameras and the police had no control over them, the police said.

However, Haaretz found that over the past few months the police had released some videos for example, in the case of an attack perpetrated by two Palestinian teens in the north Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev. But in cases in which there were questions about the conduct of police personnel or soldiers, the police or the army chose not to release footage from security cameras.

A relative of one of the two siblings said that Abu Ismayil was on her way to Jerusalem for medical treatment. The relative added that this was the first time she had received a permit to cross the checkpoint and her family is sure she approached the vehicle lane by mistake and that her brother was shot while trying to help her after she was shot.

Abu Ismayil has two daughters, Sara, 6 and Rimas, 4. The family lives in a small village southwest of Jerusalem. Her mother, who was caring for the two girls, said Abu Ismayil had been having pains in her legs. She had been given a permit to go to Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem for tests and her brother was accompanying her.

The family said that they were planning the wedding of another brother, Hassan, in August that that Abu Ismayil was very happy about the approaching event. They said she had gone with her brother to buy a suit and had not shown any signs of distress over the past month. They said they had not received any proof that Abu Ismayil and Tahah had been planning a stabbing attack.

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